Every year, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (MLK) elevates the importance of issues like diversity and civil rights in the minds of people across the nation. Some simply view the third Monday of every January as a day off or a 24 hour nap. Some embrace the day’s meaning, but unfortunately this occurs only in fleeting moments of appreciation in fast paced daily routines. At Andover, we are fortunate to be part of an institution that values the achievements of Dr. King and uses this holiday to give students a better understanding of equality and diversity.
When asked how Andover students could celebrate the message of MLK Day on a daily basis, Steve Pemberton, Monday’s MLK Day speaker, shared a couple of simple proposals, but his suggestion to sit at a different lunch table from time to time resonated with me.
This seemingly straightforward task can actually demand a lot of self-confidence, especially in the intricate social climate high schools have so famously adopted. When faced with things like the unbearable social awkwardness of Junior orientation, the discomfort of sitting alone in Paresky Commons or the stress of finding people to mingle with on a Friday night, having a group of close friends can be comforting.
While having a group of close friends is an integral part of anyone’s life, that’s not to say we should restrict ourselves to a limited few.
I found myself doing just that. I developed tunnel vision where the only people close to me at Andover were four or five friends. This set group of friends definitely helped me avoid a lot of uncomfortable situations, but I’ve always wondered what I was missing by strictly eating lunch with them in Commons, sitting with them in the Den and studying with them in the library. The idea that I might graduate without meeting or hearing the stories of my fellow peers troubled me.
So, I did something about it. I decided that one day instead of mechanically marching to my usual table, I would wander into a completely different dining hall with one goal: to make new friends.
With that, I cautiously approached a long table occupied by people I had never seen before. With flashbacks to Junior year flying through my mind, I asked if I could sit with them. To my surprise, they excitedly answered, “Yes!” I sat down with my bowl of pasta and a cup of water as the three students sitting near me struck up conversation.
As time progressed, we all decided to get some homework done. As I pulled my Russian 150 textbook out of my backpack, one of the girls’ eyes lit up as she asked, “You’re learning Russian?” Turns out, she speaks fluent Russian. Although I barely understood a thing when she began rattling off some conversational phrases, I did pretty well on my homework that day.
At this point, I felt like a decorated veteran in the game of making friends, and with this confidence I did the same thing the next week. This time as I ventured through Commons, I spotted a classmate from my former English 100 class and continued on over to his table. For two years, the two of us hadn’t exchanged more than a obligatory head nod combined with a lackluster smile. Sure, he seemed a little caught off guard. The first five minutes of our lunch period were essentially silent and throughout those painstaking five minutes, all I wanted to do was hit a big red button labeled “ABORT.” But I didn’t. And neither did my long lost classmate. Eventually, we dove into conversation, and before I knew it, I was having a thought-provoking and meaningful discussion. We covered everything from family to funny memories from our old English class.
After following Pemberton’s advice, I can honestly assure anyone that it is a rewarding experience.
There are so many unique and engaging stories to be heard, and we cannot ignore them. At most, we only have four years at Andover, so I encourage everyone to take advantage of it. How? Sacrifice one lunch period, and instead of burying yourself in your computer in Upper Left of Commons (as I’m doing right now), sit down with people you don’t know. Pull your gaze away from the TV in the Den and talk to the stranger sitting next to you. Try new clubs. Hear new stories. Experience the amalgam of mini-communities existing within our community, and share your own. Who knows, maybe you will find a new Russian tutor or rekindle a lost friendship.
Stephen Moreland is a three-year Upper from Andover, MA, and a Photography Editor for The Phillipian.